Who thought of footpath kerb cuts? 30 years ago policy makers couldn’t understand why anyone needed kerb cuts in footpaths. “Why would anyone need kerb cuts – we never see people with disability on the streets”. This is part of the history of disability rights that we rarely think about these days. But kerb cuts didn’t happen because of policy – they happened because people took matters into their own hands. And accessibility eventually shaped the streets.
Stories of activists pouring concrete on kerbs have made their way into urban legends. It is sometimes referred to as the “Curb Cut Revolution”. (Note the American spelling. In Australia we call them kerb ramps.) It was the beginning of a turning point for accessibility.
Of course, the injustice is not evident to those who are perhaps inconvenienced but not excluded. And it’s not just about wheelchair users. Anyone using a wheeled device: delivery trolley, pram, bicycle or luggage knows the value of the kerb cut. They’ve also benefited from the other accessibility features in the built environment. That’s how the term “universal design” was coined – good for wheelchair users, good for everyone.
Aged care is in the news and not for good reasons. But what do Australians think of aged care and ageing in general? A good question, and the answer depends on your perspective and your age. Regardless, we need to consider home design seriously. That’s because staying put at home is clearly the favourite place for older age.
The research confirmed previous studies that older Australians prefer to stay put at home and if needed, receive aged care at home. This desire increases with age. This preference is also expressed in the priority for help in the home rather than health related services. However, younger people rated health services as the highest priority for older age. The implication is that younger people see ageing as a bodily health issue whereas independence and choice are top of mind for older people. That is, their quality of life.
There is much to unpack from this report which also looks at community attitudes and perceptions of aged care. Perhaps the most surprising finding was that few people knew how much the government contributes to aged care costs. Most thought it was around 50% but it is actually 78%. This report is well-written and there are little gems hidden in the data.
The unanswered question remains, “If older people want to receive aged care at home, will the design of their homes support their desire?”
The answer is no in most cases – not if they are to retain their independence. Many older homeowners are in the same home in which they brought up their family. When they bought it there was no thought about whether the design would support them in their older age. Consequently, if we ask younger Australians whether they want access features in their new home they are likely to say no. Few of us can imagine ourselves as being somewhat “lesser” beings – that is, losing capacity over time. That means all our housing stock is unsuited to ageing in place and aged care at home. Time for a change.
Our homes have to work for us – all of us. COVID has highlighted how important this is. But do our current home designs support all home-based activities for the whole household? Probably not.
The Conversation has a timely article on how home design liberates people with disability or long term health condition and improves their quality of life. It is written in the context of the Australian Government’s housing stimulus package. The title of the article is, Renovations as stimulus? Home modifications can do so much more to transform people’s lives. The bottom line is that designs that increase independence, significantly decrease care hours and improve quality of life.
The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design has campaigned for universal design features in all new homes. Their 20 years of advocacy has resulted in the Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) for accessible housing. The RIS was devised by a firm of economists for the Australian Building Codes Board. Using standard economic modelling, it was their job to weigh the costs and benefits of including basic universal design features in all new housing. They found that costs outweigh benefits to the community. However, the community currently bears the cost of not having universal design features in our homes.
Early entry to aged care, carers not being able to do paid work, increased falls, longer times in hospital, and the list goes on. So perhaps we should be comparing one cost with another. To say not having a cost is a benefit hides the current and ongoing and cumulative costs to individuals, families and the community. The “benefit” is not a bonus, not the “cherry on the cake”. It just reduces the current cost. And the features are good for everyone – it’s not special.
As a consultation document the RIS calls for submissions to either confirm their assessments or to provide additional information for their calculations. Submissions are open until 31 August 2020.
This is a moment in time where we have a chance to update home design for how we live today and tomorrow. If you have a story about home design,send it to ANUHD or respond directly to the Consultation RIS. Submissions can be your own story in your own words.
A home has to support people studying, working, doing a hobby, exercise or just needing a quiet space. And let’s not forget our personal care, household chores and maintenance. It also has to suit people caring for others – family members or paid staff.
NSW Government wants to set a 20 year vision for housing. The strategy covers housing supply, diversity, affordability and resilience. Housing for seniors and people with disability is listed as a separate category. It mentions national policies such as taxation, migration, financial regulation, and the NDIS. Nevertheless, it lacks reference to the National Disability Strategy, the Livable Housing Design Guidelines, and the current consultation Regulation Impact Statement for accessible housing. The strategy implies that the NDIS and Specialist Disability Accommodation will solve the problem.
The proposed vision is:
“Housing that supports security, comfort and choice for all people at all stages of their lives, achieved through supply that meets the demand for diverse, affordable and resilient housing and responds to environmental, cultural, social and economic contexts.”
The document includes a set of discussion questions that can help people with their responses. There is also a Fact Bookwith the data used to form the draft strategy. It includes data on households with a person with disability on page 25.
There’s good supporting info inHome Coming? Framing housing policy for the future. The information is presented in an e-learning format, but this makes the information easy to grasp. And it’s free to do. It is a quick run through of the issues that should be considered if we are to truly have “comfort and choice for all people at all stages of their lives”.
A guide to taking a universal design approach to urban planning covers just about everything. The aim of the guide is to deliver sustainable solutions and to create inclusive places. Here are some of the reasons planners should take a UD approach:
It avoids the need for wasteful and inefficient retro-fitting of solutions
It informs genuinely integrated strategies for land-use, transportation and urban design
It creates greater efficiencies for public infrastructure investment
It widens the audience and market for development projects enhancing commercial viability
It helps provide an environment in which people can age and retain their independence
Although this guide is based on planning laws in Ireland, there are many similarities to other jurisdictions. It covers, consultation, neighbourhoods, community facilities, lifetime homes, travel chain analysis, street design, car parking, economic development, wayfinding, heritage and more. There are also sample policy statements for each section.
How do you draw together the right to an urban life with practical policies? It’s a case of weighing up democratic values and architectural design. Urban life is more than just a place outside of home to visit. It’s also about being visible in public places – a concept much valued by people with disability. The underpinning value is social justice. Universal design is both a concept about inclusion as well as design initiatives. Finding the balance between them is the key.
A study carried out in Oslo, Norway sought the views of urban experts. They included local government representatives, disability rights organisations and property owners. To sum up, public places can protect equality and dignity if all stakeholders share the same knowledge and understanding. Once again, we see that inclusion requires knowledge sharing across disciplines.
Excerpt from abstract:How can urban planning processes include perspectives from people with disabilities? This paper discusses the implementation of universal design and accessibility in a local urban context. Universal design consists of both core values, such as inclusion and equal status, and specific design initiatives, such as design of pavement surfaces and benches. The aim of implementing universal designing strategies is to achieve equal access for all citizens. Based on an empirical study of an urban redesign project, I argue that equal access must imply both access to public places and to political processes.
What about a post-pandemic social housing stimulus project? Not a new idea, but such ideas usually relate to new housing. So what about modifying existing social housing? This is so that people can stay in their community for longer as they age. Lisa King argues the case in a research paper with a focus on older women.
King’s paper begins with a literature review of the issues related to older women and housing. The case study takes the floor plans of existing dwellings and makes changes to show how to make them more accessible. The case study includes studio units and two bedroom units. There is also a site plan, a demolition plan and costings too.
King summarises the research by giving a rationale for choosing 1960s dwellings, and says the project is scaleable, modular and cost effective. In addition, this type of work provides employment for small and medium businesses. And of course, it optimises existing stock while improving the lives of residents. King sums up with, “The result would be universally accessible housing and an asset which would assist meet the growing demand for residents to age-in-place with dignity.”
The key to sustainable cities is to make them age-friendly, to work collaboratively across city departments, and to engage all ages in consultations. This is because older people risk exclusion from social and economic life if we keep designing cities in the same way.
The latest policy brief on ageing from the UN group in Europefocuses on housing, access to green and public spaces, and transportation. The policy brief also looks at how smart technologies can be leveraged to improve the situation.
Mainstreaming ageing, gender, disability and human rights in urban planning is the key. Involving all generations for a people-centred approach, and not working in silos are also important. These are all elements of a universal design approach.
Each section on housing, green spaces and public places, and transport address the issues in more detail. A lengthy document which should be of interest to policy makers and urban planners working at all levels. The media release is a shorter, easier read.
The daily disadvantage of marginalised groups is more clearly revealed as others fall into the ranks of disadvantage during this pandemic. A discussion paper from Berkeley argues that this current pandemic is an opportunity to consider similar urban health reforms that followed previous epidemics. Promoting inclusive and healthy cities for all is the bottom line in this thoughtful discussion.
The discussion papertakes the perspective of people with functional limitations. For many people worldwide, disability is about health, human rights, and poverty. It’s an urban development issue and time to move from the medical model to the social model of disability. Also discussed are how people with disability are left out of economic responses, such as one-off support payments, and not included in planning to prevent future crises. The authors provide recommendations for how this pandemic can best support people with disability and how this makes cities healthier for all. They warn that pandemics also run the risk of exacerbating further marginalisation through racism and segregation. The abstract below is the essence of the paper.
Abstract: Persons with disabilities (PWDs) living in cities during the COVID-19 pandemic response may be four times more likely to be injured or die than non-disabled persons, not because of their “vulnerable” position but because urban health policy, planning and practice has not considered their needs. In this article, the adverse health impacts on PWDs during the COVID-19 pandemic reveals the “everyday emergencies” in cities for PWDs and that these can be avoided through more inclusive community planning, a whole-of-government commitment to equal access, and implementation of universal design strategies. Importantly, COVID-19 can place PWDs at a higher risk of infection since some may already have compromised immune and respiratory systems and policy responses, such as social distancing, can lead to life-threatening disruptions in care for those that rely on home heath or personal assistants. Living in cities may already present health-damaging challenges for PWDs, such as through lack of access to services and employment, physical barriers on streets and transportation, and smart-city technologies that are not made universally accessible. We suggest that the current pandemic be viewed as an opportunity for significant urban health reforms on the scale of the sanitary and governance reforms that followed ninetieth century urban epidemics. This perspective offers insights for ensuring the twenty-first century response to COVID-19 focuses on promoting more inclusive and healthy cities for all.
The life of Active Living NSW has come to an end. Consequently, on 2 May, their website will be decommissioned. However, their resources are available on other websites. They are listed below for easy access, or you can download the PDF version of the list. Many resources are recent publications. All resources should be read with universal design and inclusion in mind. We cannot be active without an accessible built environment designed for everyone.
The scorecard and priority recommendations for Sydney builds upon the first baseline measure of liveability in Australia’s state and territory capitals, presented in Creating Liveable Cities in Australia.
The Western Australian report reviews State Government liveability policies in Perth using a scorecard system to indicate where the city is meeting, exceeding, on par, or falling below its policy targets.